”I believe that the Romanian art is competitive and the artists are by no means less valuable than their European contemporaries”.
Interview with Emilia Suciu, owner of Galerie Emilia Suciu, Ettlingen, Germany
Born in Alba-Julia/ Romania, 1939. Spends her childhood in Aiud. High-school graduate from „Scoala Medie Mixta“, former Bethlen Gabor Gymnasium“ in Aiud.
Moves to Cluj in order to study.
Graduate in philology at the university „Babes-Bolyai“ and in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts „Ion Andreescu“, both in Cluj.
Marries Toma Suciu, a lawyer, and one of the pioneers of Romanian automobile sports. Moves from Cluj to Oradea.
Due to an unfortunate circumstance, receives a special licence to teach languages at home. In 1982 leaves Romania and settles in Karlsruhe, Germany.Years of frustration and odd jobs.
In 1988 succeeds in opening her own art gallery, in Karlsruhe.
In 1993 moves to Ettlingen (near Karlsruhe) and after a short pause reopens the gallery, which is now 25 years old.
Since 1993 lives and works in Ettlingen.
Galerie Emilia Suciu
Pforzheimer Str. 120
Do you remember the first moment when you fell in love with art?
This moment took place such a long time ago, that I think we’d better consider what happened afterwards. If the picture which I had seen as a six or seven year old child was the first impulse to wake a burning interest for art later, I cannot tell.
Is your taste for art a family heritage, a result of your self education or both of them?
I grew up in a small town in Transylvania, Romania with a rich cultural and artistic tradition. A number of artists connected to the Baia Mare artist’s colony (1896-1938) had their origines in Aiud/Alba (Nagyenyed/ Schäßburg am Miresch) like Albert Vass , Janos Gruzda , Dezsi Huber, Eva Nagy, Janos Incze Des etc.
The population until the early 60’s was made up of different ethnical groups. Romanians, Hungarians, Saxons, Jews shared the town in harmony. There was a certain unitary spirit which actually characterized Transylvania as a whole. This enriched not only the economic and social life of the region, but also the cultural aspects of this little town.
I grew up and was educated in this spirit, which certainly contributed to my spiritual development later.
My studies include a Master of arts degree in philology from the Babes-Bolyai University and a Bachelor of art degree in history of arts from the Institute of Fine Arts „Ion Andreescu“, both in Cluj.
I suppose you became an art collector before being a well-known gallerist, who are the first artists collected by you?
Before I decided to leave my country for good and settle down in Germany in 1982, I worked as a teacher in Oradea. There was no question of collecting art. There weren’t many collectors in those times either. Collecting art was regarded as a decadent left-over of the past, bygone bourgeois society. One had to work hard to make ends meet. It certainly didn’t occur to many people to buy pictures in those times.
It was not until the mid 80’s in Germany that I started buying some paintings of Romanian artists. They were pictures of those artists I had known before.
There was a keen interest at that time for East European art in general. West European galleries showed Russian, Polish, Hungarian but very seldom Romanian art. This fact gave me the idea of assembling a collection of Romanian painting abroad, which could have filled permanently the gap in the presentation of East European art. I realized that putting up a show to reveal the artistic creation of one or several Romanian artists is not sufficient to draw the attention of the Romanian art as a whole. To achieve this goal it was necessary to show the artistic creation of a greater number of artists and cover a large period of time, thus offering an overall picture. Collecting paintings all along the 20th century seemed to me the right way.
The collection consists of about 300 pictures. They follow different epochs, generations and styles of an art between the tension of modern and traditional, mingling at the same time Western influence with national elements.
We showed the collection in our gallery and organized exhibitions in various spaces in Germany (museums, institutions etc.) and a vast catalogue was published as well.
I believe that the Romanian art is competitive and the artists are by no means less valuable than their European contemporaries, regarding their quality and moral attitude and it is high time for them to take a place in the new European consciousness.
Is it difficult for a German born Romanian gallerist to penetrate the German and international art market? Do you need a clear concept and vision to become a good gallerist? Did you choose the concrete-constructivist direction because you thought there are also important Romanian artists close to this trend?
I don’t think that a complex issue like penetrating the national or the international art market has much to do with the origin of a gallerist. It is rather more a question of a bond between time and achievement. This is not something you can take for granted and it does not happen over night. It is more the result of hard work over many years. Certainly, a clear concept, sense for quality, and professional know how lead, as a rule, to establish the fame of a gallery.
I recognized very early the potential of geometrical abstract art.
If we consider the multitude and variety of movements within the international contemporary art it’s better to concentrate on a certain direction (current) which certainly has to make sense in terms of your own esthetics and stick to it. It is ultimately a matter of attitude to support art you believe in.
According to my knowledge, constructive tendencies have never played a major role in Romanian modern or contemporary art. Those who are known to be close to such tendencies are usually those artists who left Romania, earlier or later, establishing themselves abroad like Brancusi, Natalia Dumitresco, Maxy, Paul Neagu, Roman Cotosman, Diet Sayler, Peter Jacobi, Ingo Glass. Inside the country it was not until the 60’s that certain artists like Constantin Flondor, Stefan Bertalan, Doru Tulcan, Zoltan Molnar, Viorel Toma, Florin Maxa, Ştefan Sevastre experienced in this direction.
Alongside constructive art which has been the label of my gallery for more than 25 years I intended to promote young artists from Romania as well trying to provide them with a platform in order to facilitate their catching up with the international art events from which they had been cut off before. Unfortunately it didn’t work out the way I imagined so I gave up the project. Although my gallery aquired meanwhile a rather strong international character, I have never ceased showing artists from my home country: Ioan Bunus, Julian Mereuta, Paul Neagu, Peter Jacobi, Diet Sayler, Ingo Glass, Victor and Dana Roman have been permanently presented in our gallery. They all live (or lived) distant from their source, like myself, which is however less relevant than the positive sense of the cultural ambiguity they create. I always wanted to stage serious international exhibitions and whether the artist was Romanian, German or British was of little importance. The only thing that really matters in my estimation is the artistic quality of the work.
During years you became a major defender and promoter of contemporary Romanian art and you already asserted this is a competitive one, on the international art scene. In my opinion, the Romanian authorities and the cultural non-governamental organizations do not try to create a proper atmosphere for the art community, for example there are only few initiatives to promote abroad our best contemporary visual artists. Can you tell us something about the German strategy to promote art and its benefits?
Concerning the promotion of contemporary Romanian art I could have done much more. Since I have never received support neither from Romania nor from Germany many of my projects failed. This is why I don’t want to get involved in discussions about the art promoting strategies of either of these countries. I am an individualist. I don’t think much of sponsoring either the way it is practiced.
On the other hand it is true, that without ideal and financial support, both prerequisites for achieving cultural purposes, the advance is slow. Patrons whether big or small, private or public, could provide the necessary requirements for an optimal spiritual climate.
Your art gallery, Galerie Emilia Suciu, from Ettlingen, Germany, opened its doors, in December 2012 and January 2013, for another big event dedicated to the Romanian contemporary art, the group show ‘’Romanian Artists Abroad/The Last 70 years’’ with 90 artworks by 30 major visual artists, born in Romania, but who lived a big part of their life abroad (France, Germany, Austria, Great Britain, USA, Switzerland, etc): George Apostu, Friedrich von Bömches, Ioan Bunus, Adina Caloenescu, Mircea Ciobanu, Roman Cotosman, Doru Covrig, Natalia Dumitresco, Ingo Glass, Istvan Gyalai, Étienne Hajdu, Ion Isaila, Mirela Anura, Alexandre Istrati, Peter Jacobi, Zoltán Kemény, Julian Mereuta, Eva Naghi, Ion Nicodim, Paul Neagu, Henri Nouveau, Ion Pacea, Roland Phelps, Dana Roman, Victor Roman, Diet Sayler, Otto Scherer, Sandor Simon, Daniel Spoerri, Mattis Teutsch. Unfortunately some of them, like Friedrich von Bömches, Ion Isaila, Peter Jacobi, Henri Nouveau, Roland Phelps, Diet Sayler are less known in Romania, though they are very famous and successful abroad. Can you tell us some words about the cooperation with them?
The current show in our gallery, „Artists from Romania abroad“, presents a selection of 30 artists having lived abroad during the past 70 years. Especially after the second world war quite a number of younger artists succeeded to leave Romania and try to settle somewhere else in Western Europe. They couldn’t agree with the totalitary system of the communist government and its cultural politics and the constraint of the only accepted trend in art: the socialist realism.
Many of them went to Paris, like Victor Roman, George Apostu, Ioan Bunus. Others settled down in Germany, like Roland Phleps, Ingo Glass, Diet Sayler, Ion Isaila. Roman Cotosman emmigrated in the USA. The artists who meanwhile made a name abroad were not welcome in their home country for a long time, mainly because their art did not suit in the patterns of the country’s communist ideology. After the revolution in 1989 however many of them were invited to return and have exhibitions in museums and prestigious galleries.
This exhibition is another attempt of mine to draw attention on Romanian artists and express my respect and love for my cultural heritage.
The cooperation of a gallery with its artists occur according to more or less settled procedure. Our gallery has an international note and the cooperation with Romanian artists are regarded within this respect. The more intimate relationship with some of them is due to our common origin. Ioan Bunus, Peter Jacobi and Ingo Glass who’s talent and personality I appreciate very much are among those artists who have been the closest to our gallery. They also belong to my very best friends. Their wise and fair-minded advices were often useful and helped in my work.
Do you think such an impressive group show, a beautiful page for the Romanian art history, could be also organized in Bucharest, by the National Museum of Contemporary Art? Are you opened to such a possible cooperation?
I would be delighted to further our current exhibition „Artists from Romania abroad“ by showing it in Bucharest or elsewhere in the country (Sibiu, Brasov, Cluj). I would be equally happy to present in Romania the collection of „Romanian painting in the 20th century“ or the programm of our gallery, featuring renowned international artists like Genevieve Claisse, Luis Tomasello, Michael Kidner, Vera Molnar, Reinhard Roy, Cruz-Diez etc.
Compared to you and to other international art collectors, I’ve noticed that almost all the Romanian actual art collectors are interested to collect only Romanian artists, who lived or live in Romania; they do not collect foreign artists or even Romanian artists who live abroad. If our ancestors collected in the same manner, now our public and private collections did’nt have artworks of a huge value by Tizian, Rembrandt or Rodin. What is your opinion regarding this issue?
The fact that Romanian art collectors are reluctant to buy contemporary international artists is due to the insufficiency of their knowledge about the international art market in general. Since there are few exhibitions in Romania featuring established international artists one can hardly expect another approach. One buys only what one knows.
I have never advised a collector to buy art according to an artist’s growth potential. Those who think in these terms cannot be called passionate art lovers. They are often not more than speculators.
I am not sure either that it makes sense to compare top international artists who break records in auction houses with Romanian artists who still have much lower price level This kind of thinking may diminish the value of Romanian artists.
The huge price level of some contemporary artists compared to our Romanian artists is more the result of a marketing strategy than the matter of a fair estimation of true artistic values on the art market.